MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Most people who drive past the historic home that houses the Mobile Medical Museum on Spring Hill Avenue likely have no idea of the treasures tucked inside.
There are tools from Civil War surgeons — including bullet extractors, operating kits and amputation saws. A 1930s-era iron lung borrowed before tornadoes struck Tuscaloosa stands in one room, while a first-generation heart-lung machine demonstrates how blood was pumped through vital organs during complex surgeries nearby.
As it reaches a milestone half-century mark, local physicians hope more visitors will take the time to discover the spot dedicated to preserving the history of health care in coastal Alabama.
"The museum is so much more than out-of-date equipment," said Dr. Elizabeth Manci, president of the Medical Society of Mobile County. "It offers a slice of history where you learn lessons of how people made observations that led to progress — real lessons — that can be applied today."
The museum's board of directors is planning a fundraiser in October and working to enlist new volunteers to make sure Mobile's legacy as the cradle of organized medicine in Alabama remains strong.
That history, said museum board director and volunteer Sally C. Green, dates back to at least 1859, when older doctors taught younger doctors how to care for the sick.
The first hospital in the state was located in Mobile, Green said.
And the first medical school, the Alabama Medical College, was founded in Mobile in 1859 before being moved in 1920 by leaders of the University of Alabama.
Green, whose husband is a retired physician, and Shirley Mull share some of their time with visitors each week as docents, offering guided tours and colorful details about how each medical artifact came to reside there.
"It sort of became a passion," said Green. "I like the idea of searching through stuff and finding out what it is."
On a recent afternoon, the women talked with excitement about dozens of aging X-ray tubes discovered among boxes piled high in a storage room.
"It's amazing," Green said of the glass bulbs. "They look like pieces of sculpture."
The museum also is home to hundreds of books and handwritten records, some dating back to the 1850s.
For the most part, museum visitors are school-age children or young adults pursuing careers in medicine. More docents are needed, Green said, to give tours and to assist with the children who visit with their classes.
"To me," Manci said, "it's all about the stories and how people solved problems. Knowing your history lets you know where you are going."
Information from: Press-Register, http://www.al.com/press-register/